Part 4 from Franklin, Bob (2006) Local Journalism and Local Media. Routledge. See preface, ch 1, and ch2.
p.27 For over 40 years, there has been a unique British experiment with regional tv. Independent television (ITV) and the BBC– two competing and complementary systems. One is funded by advertising and the other by a licence fee. Both committed to providing high-quality network and regional programming.
In 2005: there were 18 BBC regions and subregions and 27 ITV1 equivalents (Ofcom 2005a: 241).
TV is the most used and trusted source of information for the UK, and so plays a vital role in the strength of democracy (Hargreaves and Thomas 2002: 62-76).
But the duopoly has ended and deregulation has been imposed.
ITV used to be the dominant regional news broadcaster but has now (2006) lost much of its audience.
p.28 – ITV was created in 1955. it was the dominant regional player until end of the 1990s (see 1990 Broadcast Act effects). It was set up as a regional network. Its regional licences were dependent on the quality of its programming.
The 1990 BA brought in a franchise auction. This meant that licences were awarded to the highest bidder, once a quality threshold had been met. The companies argued that they needed to merge to be able to compete.
By 2004, the Granada Carlton merger meant there was a single ITV company controlling all the franchises in England and Wales. In Scotland, it was the SMG — Scottish Media Group.
To win the 1992 licences, many companies offered to expand their regional coverage.
On ITV1, as on BBC, there was significantly more coverage of the nations — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — than of the English regions (Ofcom 2005a: 241-5).
But it soon became too expensive for ITV.
Local news became a lower priority and scheduling changes made it worse.
Clive James (2005 chief exec of ITV News): “they also then embarked on messing around with teatime, messing around with the news.”
The major change was a consequence of ITV’s ill-fated decision in 1997 to kill off its most important news programme, News at Ten.
The network news was moved from 17.40 to 18.30, which left regional news programmes running at 18.00, having to compete against the BBC’s very successful network news. BBC regional news overtook ITV’s (Hargreaves and Thomas 2002: 32).
In 1994, ITV’s audience share for regional news at 18.00 was 43%. In 2003, it was 21%.
The BBC’s audience share for its regional news at 18.30 was 34% in 1994 and 30% in 2003.
In 2002, for the first time, the BBC spent more on its regional output than ITV (Ofcom 2004a: 57-62).
Expansion at the BBC
The BBC had an increased focus on regional news under John Birt and his successive directors of regional broadcasting: Mark Byford, Ron Neil and Mark Thompson.
There was a new focus on specialist journalism in areas like transport.
By 2000, the regional news operation had been integrated into the BBC’s network news operations, ending decades of mutual hostility.
Greater integration and cooperation began.
By 2004, the BBC spent three times as much per hour on regional programmes in Scotland than it did in the English regions (Ofcom 2005a: 244).
p.30 Lightweight digital cameras encourage the growth of video journalism. Where once the BBC had struggled to put 80 conventional camera crews in the field each day, it could now rely on up to 400 people trained as video journalists.
p.29 Pat Loughrey — 2005 director of nations and regions, says it (p.30) transformed newsgathering: now between the east region and the Midlands, we have more cameras than we had in the whole UK. That’s the difference.’
TV expanded and a move online also began. 1998 saw the launch of a network of ‘Where I live’ websites in the Nations and Regions.
By 2003/4, spending in the nations and regions at £11.64 million was the 2nd biggest item after national and international news (Graf 2004: 35).
Light touch regulation
The commercial television regulator in 1992 was ITC. Initially, ITC had been concerned about trying to protect regional news. By the end of the 90s, the ITC began to be more sympathetic to ITV’s economic problems.
p.31. Research suggested that ITV’s traditional role in regional TV was under extreme pressure (Kidd and Taylor 2002: 5).
Ofcom calculated that the average cost per hour of regional programming, including news, was £418,000 , compared with an average cost of £86k for network programming (Ofcom 2004a: 60-1).
Ofcom did two things to lighten their load:
1) lightened ITV’s regulatory obligations by cutting back the amount of non-news regional broadcasting had to broadcast, and
2) It adjusted ITV’s licences to allow it more resources to pay for its regional news services.
In Feb 2005, Ofcom agreed that in England, the companies only had to run an hour and a half of non-news regional programming, reducing to just 30 mins once digital switchover was under way (Dignam 2005:5).
p.31. In the nations, the quota stayed at 4hrs; then 3hrs as switchover began (Pike 2005: 5).
In June 2005, Ofcom agreed to reduce the annual licence payments ITV was making to the treasury by the equivalent of £135m (Revoir 2005; 2).
The Last Chance
The incoherent and wasteful structure of ITV exacerbated the growing crisis of audiences and resources. ITV had always had, in Independent Television News (ITN), a single national and international news supplier. p.32. The regional newsrooms, however, were autonomous.
Clive Jones: ‘the only thing that united the ITV regions was their hatred of ITN’.
Amusing anecdote about ITN asking for regional photos for the pre-regional news, given excuses for them not being available but then miraculously appearing for the regional news, 10 minutes later.
With consolidation, attitudes began to change.
Senior managers began to be aware of how bad things were in 2001, when HTV Wales (an ITV company) sold its exclusive pictures of the ‘Prescott punch’ to Sky News, ITV’s commercial rival, and then passed them on to ITN, ITV’s network news service.
Cost savings began to be focused on the regions.
In March 2003, ITN & ITV jointly approached the ITC with a confidential proposal entitled ‘Making News Stronger’. The goal was to make an integrated news organisation for ITV (Tait 2003a; 4).
p.33. 2004: The ITV News Group was created. It had two purposes:
- improve quality;
- p.33 – “Make ITV Regional News cooperate as one organisation and cooperate with the network news as one organisation” — one of the ITN editors, Michael Jermey
For Clive Jones, ITV Regional News had lost its way, particularly during the 1990s when the programmes had become hard news vehicles with too much emphasis on crime. He said: ‘Given that lots of viewers of regional news tend to be older, I’m amazed that some people went out at night.”
There was a move away from fires and crime. Sets and graphics were standardised; controversially, ITV moved its regional newsrooms out of their traditional (and redundant) city centre headquarters in places like Norwich, Southampton and Birmingham.
They closed and sold those sites, and moved their news operations to smaller, purpose-built facilities in cheaper locations, which could be equipped with the latest digital technology for video journalism and desktop editing.
The concept became known as ‘business park television’. ITV invested £40-£50m in new studios, satellite trucks and digital equipment. There were job losses too but not editorial staff.
By the end of 2004, ITV1’s regional share had risen 2 points to 23%, narrowing the gap with the BBC to 6%.
On programme quality; in Oct 2004, Ofcom said both the BBC and ITV regional news programmes demonstrated high-quality journalism & production values on the big stories.
ITV had a higher overall story count but the BBC carried more specialist reports and more crafted feature reports.
p.34 Local TV and Beyond
By 2005, the gov. had announced that the process of digital switchover would begin in 2008 and be completed by 2012.
At that point, the regional network of analogue transmitters would be switched off and with them, ITV argued, went any obligation to provide regional programming unless it was profitable to do so.
For the BBC, coverage of the nations and regions was a key element in its longer-term strategy.
In 2007, the BBC published a document called Building Public Value, which was its proposal document for the new BBC charter from 2007. It was explicit in identifying social and community value as one of the five main ways in which it created public value (BBC 2004: 8).
Technology, however, meant broadcasters could target smaller audiences.
By autumn 2005, there were 17 stations with restricted service licences from Ofcom, mostly running city-based local television, such as Channel M in Manchester (Newspaper Society 2005). The BBC proposed to launch 20-60 local television stations across the country.
The Newspaper Society argued the proposal should not be allowed to go ahead.
35. Ultimately, the local papers said they wouldn’t be able to compete with public funding.
ITV were planning their own pilots. Ominously, Clive Jones wondered ‘is there a new stream of revenue advertising from property through to cars to classified?’
2005 was also the year ‘citizen journalism’ emerged as a major source of material for broadcasters. This was due to mobile phones with the capacity to shoot and then transmit video and wide availability of cheap, high quality video cameras.
The regional and national coverage of the floods at Boscastle and the 7 July 2005 bombings relied heavily on this form of ‘citizen journalism’.
ITV and the Daily Mail paid a reported £65k for exclusive amateur video of the arrest of two alleged bombers.
ITV’s London Tonight set up a network of hundreds of viewers who were interested in contributing material and who could be text messaged to see if they were in the area when a story broke.
Pat Loughrey built a significant element of citizen journalism into his plans for BBC local television. ‘At least a third of the content of the service will be produced by the public and every site will have a producer whose job it is to nurture and facilitate people telling their own stories.
The key issues about citizen journalism are:
- professional implications
- how do regional and local services ensure that the 3rd party material they offer their viewers is accurate and impartial?
- How do they avoid being hoaxed or hijacked by lobbyists?
- Broadcasters’ responsibilities.
- p.36. how far can they encourage untrained viewers to act as cameramen, particularly in hazardous situations?
In 2005, December, ITV News Channel closed. Where is it now?